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Thursday August 11th

Q&A: SBP Teddy Vann offers advice for incoming first-year and transfer students

Taliajah "Teddy" Vann, a candidate for student body president, sits by the in Old Well on Sunday, Feb. 6, 2022.
Buy Photos Taliajah "Teddy" Vann, student body president, sits by the Old Well on Sunday, Feb. 6, 2022.

Summer Managing Editor Emmy Martin spoke with Student Body President Taliajah “Teddy” Vann about the upcoming school year, the key issues she is focusing on and how incoming first-year and transfer students can make the most of their time at UNC. 

This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.

The Daily Tar Heel: What should incoming students know about you?

Teddy Vann: I am so excited to get to know all of you. I know that may not seem like a personal fact or tidbit, but I really am a people person. I love getting to connect with new people – it's a large part of why I wanted to be student body president. 

I want first-year students to know that I'm here for them all the time. If there's anything that you need and I don't know how to help you, I'm sure that I can find somebody who does. So keep in mind, not only am I here to support you and just say 'hi' because I'm excited to get to know you, but I am here to be a really important line of support for you. I take that job really seriously and I'm excited to do it over the course of the year. 

DTH: Could you offer any reflections from your first year at UNC?

TV:  My first year was a doozy. We were on campus for a semester and maybe a month or two. Then, I had to go back home and do online classes. During the first semester of college, I worked really hard to meet a lot of people, just put myself out there and make connections. That is one of the best parts of college: getting to see people who are from places, who have done things and seen things that maybe I haven't even been able to conceive yet.

In that first semester, I took advantage of that. But, getting to see how difficult it was to maintain those connections once all of the work to connect ourselves got tangled up, when everyone got sent back to their respective parts of our globe, really taught me that it's important to seize the day. Every opportunity that you get to meet a new person, to participate in a new organization, to seek out a new experience – you need to do that. 

I think in some ways it's really unfortunate that that was my first year of college, but it really has forced me to come out of my shell and allowed me to really find the value in the experiences that I get to have now. A broader theme that I learned in my first year is to take advantage of everything that you can because it is a really limited period of time that you have.

DTH: What general advice would you like to give to incoming first-year and transfer students?

TV: A good piece of advice for both of those groups is that everything in your life is going to look scarier than it is. For example, you are a sophomore or a junior coming from NYU and you are now a transfer student at UNC. You may think or feel that everybody around you has already made connections. You may feel like there's not a space for you in these communities, in these organizations that were established before you got here. So, it may be scary for you to think about how you're going to penetrate that space.

If you're having that experience as a new student, I think it's really important that you remind yourself in the moments where you're afraid that everybody around you is afraid of something – even the people that have been here for three or four years who you may think have had every opportunity to establish themselves. They've got their own fears that maybe keep them from running full speed ahead at the new opportunity or the thing that they're excited to do. Just keep in mind that you are not alone, there's always somebody on this campus who is going through what you're going through.

It's possible that a lot of us have spent time creating in our minds what college is supposed to be. While I think that it's great to have those ideas, I encourage everybody to be as open as possible. You're going to meet people who you never thought you were going to get to connect with – there are going to be opportunities to engage with new perspectives and people who have come from places that are nothing like what you experienced. This is college, have a blast. 

DTH: As a first-generation college student, do you have any advice for new students who are also first-generation?

TV: Carolina is uniquely positioned when it comes to the number of resources that our University has available to first-generation college students. If you are in the Covenant Scholars Program, there are just a ton of resources that are in that space, tons of amazing staff that are working tirelessly every single day to make sure that you have what you need and to make sure that you are not going to be hindered in any way by your socioeconomic or economic status. 

Also, make sure that you talk to people, talk to faculty, talk to staff. Make sure that you are asking about the opportunities available. Talk to upperclassmen and see what resources they know about and can pass your way. As a first-generation student who did not have the resources to pay for textbooks every year, it was upperclassmen who talked to students like me and told me, 'Well, this is how you would get the book for this class that you're going to need for this major.' There are people all around Carolina who are going to look out for you, soo just keep your eye out for them. If you don't know anybody that you can ask about something you can always talk to me. 

DTH: What are your main goals for this year at UNC as SBP?

TV:  I am not here because I want people after this administration is over to say, "Teddy accomplish this and that and that and that." I want these to be things that are decided not only by myself, but by the other student leaders who are working in the student government and executive branch and senate, the first-year and transfer students who are going to come to campus and bring their leadership who we haven't had a chance to connect with yet. 

Outside of that, I would say the critical assessment phase of our platform is the most important: bringing the resources that are available in CAPS, Dean of Students, Campus Health, Accessibility Resources and Services to create a centralized way for students who are struggling with any kind of mental situation to be able to get adequate assistance. Our University does care about our students but currently isn't working in the most effective way to figure out where to iron out the issues that exist.

I spent the last year doing a lot of work advocating for increased funding for CAPS and was able to get an increase in funding. We are continuing to do that work because we do need more resources. A lot of our students don't know how to navigate therapy services, don't know how to navigate getting insurance and figure out how that works when you're getting mental health services provided to you over the course of a year. So, we're doing all the work that we can to demystify access to a mental health space in college.

Another really important area for me is the creation of a physical sexual assault resource hub on our campus. This is a really prevalent problem at UNC specifically. I don't want us to treat symptoms, I want us to treat the problem. It's important that the people who are survivors of these horrible instances on our campus, that they are able to get adequate resources. I think that it is really complicated and if this thing has happened to you, you don't need to go through a process that was not designed to be as seamless and helpful to you as possible.

Something that I'm really excited about is the director of Institutional Research and Assessment in our administration and the work of that role, which in the office of the president is really focused on ironing out what the systemic issues are at our University that we've identified. We're trying our best to get at the root of what these issues are.


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